From Indie to Majors & Back Again: Two Local musicians go from Major Deals to Self Release & Keep the Fire Alive

Dave Smallen (Photo by Anna Larina)

It’s every young aspiring musicians dream to get signed to a major label and make records for the rest of their life–at least it used to be. However most will never get there. People give up hope, they get beaten down by the music business, their songs or haircut don’t fit the times, no one cares enough about their music, they just miss their opportunity, and on and on. Whatever the reasons most musicians don’t end up playing Madison Square Garden, they end up playing their acoustic guitar to their kids as they fall asleep or hammering out a couple of Christmas tunes around the holidays.

But alas, someone has to “make it”. Someone of us has to somehow cut above the rest and finagle their way into the bedroom of the record execs–whether through creating incredible art or through connections–and score that elusive deal.  I want to focus on 2 Bay Area local musicians Dave Smallen and Ronnie Day who’ve done just that. These two musicians both scored some major record deals in the mid-2000’s to much acclaim and excitement, released their major label debut albums and relatively soon there after were dropped from their record contracts.

Now I’m not going to go over the gritty details of their individual rise from relative musical obscurity and quick (in terms of the music world) fall back into the shadows of the indie music world. You can dig up your own stories on them both. It’s all out there on the interwebs. Instead I want to talk about the art that these musicians continue to create after the dust has settled, egos have blown up and begin to mend and of course the songs keep coming out.

Let me start with Dave Smallen. Dave is originally from Oakland. He released his seminal record “Charmingly Awkward” in November of 2005. It later got picked up and rereleased by Capital Records. Dave has released 2 other albums since being dropped by Capital including his latest, “Happiness” which was released yesterday totally independently. His new album is filled with images of pain being turned into something positive. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to write about if you’d been seduced and then kicked around by the music industry for a couple of your most formative years. I’m sure this album is just the tip of the iceberg beginning to tell Dave’s story. It’s the “I’m on the other side of the mess that was signing to a major and I’m bruised and battered, but healing and still making music throughout it all” kind of album and for that it has it’s redemptive qualities that anyone can relate to. We’ve all been through some shit. We can all relate. Here’s to almost having it all, things slipping away, only to pick yourself up and keep on trucking.

Check out Dave’s new album “Happiness” and pick it up the pay-what-you-want way on his Bandcamp page.

Ronnie Day

Now onto Ronnie Day. Ronnie is originally from Redwood City. He self record and released a record from his 16 year old bedroom in 2005. He leveraged the power of the then burgeoning online market (Myspace and Purevolume) and sold the shit out of that record. It landed him a deal with Epic records and a subsequent full length album was produced and released called “The Album“. Similarly to Dave, after a short stint on the road supporting the album Ronnie was dropped by his label. His life spiraled. He was only 20 at the time and however grown up he may have been at the time he was not prepared to be dropped from his rapidly rising music career. I mean who is ready to be dropped, ever?

After 5 years Ronnie just released his first official set of tunes since “The Album”. The new EP is called “Night Owl” and he self produced and mixed it as well as played everything on the record. The EP is 5 songs, a little preview into what’s in store for Ronnie coming up. It’s one of the best self produced albums I’ve heard. The attention to detail, mixing and songs are superb.

Ronnie is battling his demons in this EP. Songs like “Birds in a Storm” recount his rise and fall in the music industry as he sings “We never got older, we just lost our dreams/we will learn to fly again, we will learn to try again“. He’s telling his story of falling apart and putting the pieces of his life–musically and personally–back together again. His sentiments are clear as day, his words pronounced, his message transparent throughout. He’s going to make a life of this whatever crazy twists and turns may happen along the way.

Check out Ronnie’s new album “Night Owl EP” at his website or on Itunes.

If you’re looking for new albums about redemption from two of our local troubadours, look no further than Dave and Ronnie. Their stories serve as a cautionary tale and at the same time as inspiration. You can make it. The adventure may sweep you off your feet, take you for a ride and spit you out the other end. You may be left alone with all your doubts and fear and it may feel impossible to get back on your feet and walk straight again. But, it’s possible. Your art can survive and the journey to get there, the journey that continues regardless of contract, music videos, high praise or the approval of millions of online “supporters” can be cathartic. As I write the last sentence I’m listing to the “Night Owl EP” and Ronnie’s singing out over swelling drums and piano on the song ‘Better Days’, “Hold on, there’s better days around the bend/You believed in love the first time and you’ll believe in love again

Doug Streblow

A little something for the Holidays

This Holiday season there’s a lot to be disgruntled about: an economy in the tank, Dizzy Balloon taking their final bow and worst of all, sweaters. On the flip side however there is plenty to be thankful for: friends, family and well sweaters. Wherever you stand on the Holiday cheer/scrooge spectrum I wanted to give you a little gift. Here’s a FREE Holiday song by Buckeye Knoll called “Not Another Sweater”. It pays homage to that oh so awkward moment each Holiday season when yet another softly wrapped package is unwrapped to reveal yet another Holiday sweater. Looks like we’ll be taking extra visits to the thrift store this year. Here’s to staying warm this Winter. Enjoy this special Holiday song from Buckeye Knoll by visiting Bandcamp at http://buckeyeknoll.bandcamp.com where you can stream and download the song for FREE as well as read the lyrics.

So pour yourself a tall glass of Egg Nog and Holiday Cheer and get merry making!

Bird Call releases amazing new EP

Bird Call, formally known as Chiara Angelicola is the project of well, Chiara Angelicola the Italian bombshell and Bay Area native who’s been wowing audiences with her powerful voice and stage presence around the Bay for almost a decade. Her latest release is her new EP “The Animals Know” and it’s an incredible chapter in her already prolific musical story. Chiara sings contemplative songs in a slow waltz like timing. They draw you in with the subtleties of lush vocal harmonies that feel like whispers and a roar at the same time.

She released her EP last night with a wonderful show at Bottom of the Hill in SF where she debuted many of the tracks from the new album as well as some old favorites such as “Momentum” and “Masquerade” all with the added bonus of a killer string quartet accompanying her. Check out a video from the standout track from the EP Waltz in the Snow–Live at Bottom of the Hill and sink into Bird Call.

http://www.birdcallmusic.com

Goodbye Audrye Sessions.

Audrye Sessions have been playing music together for about 7 years in the greater Bay Area and so it is with a heavy heart that they pack up their instruments and play one last show before calling it quits.

I have seen and played with Audrye Sessions many times since 2004 with my previous band Shafter and then with my current Buckeye Knoll. I think I remember seeing a poster for one of their shows on the UC Santa Cruz campus, back when it was their original line up and Anton Patzner was in the band full time playing violin and singing. They were playing in this old dinning hall on campus but what I remember was looking at the poster and seeing 5 beautiful people sitting together in this photo. Audrye Sessions had to be one of the all time best looking bands in the Bay Area music scene.

Anyway, image aside (although myself and every other male who’s seen them has at one point had a huge crush on their bass player Alicia) Audrye Sessions have been a phenomenal band. Their albums have all been stellar, their live show is absolutely amazing and they’re one hell of a group of people.

I won’t even begin to recount all of the amazing steps that Audrye Sessions has taken as a band over the course of their career together from DIY tours to releasing an LP on a major label and touring the country winning over hearts all over the US for years at a time.

Many bands come and go, Audrye Sessions are leaving a lasting impression on the Bay Area music community and beyond.

Come see them for one last show at the New Parish in Oakland on Friday August 27th

MOVE—an album review for Please Do Not Fight

First of all I highly recommend heading to http://pleasedonotfight.bandcamp.com to listen to the EP I’m about to review while you read it. It makes for a much more thorough and meaningful experience. Go now….good, now we’ll begin.

Zen is a big bear. He is well over 6 foot and has a sturdy frame that brings an unmistakable presence to whatever space he’s inhabiting. He sings, writes and plays guitar for the Bay Area Power Pop Rock band Please Do Not Fight out of Redwood City. On any given night of the week Zen can be found doing something to support the Bay Area music community. In some senses Zen is a traditional folk artist—a man of and for community he ascribes to. Whether it’s hanging out at other bands shows, playing one of his own, hosting an open mic, connecting musicians together or giving guitar lessons to youth he’s out there in the music community breathing much needed life and enthusiasm into everything he does. This is something we need more of in our community of artists in the Bay Area and I would go as far to say in any community anywhere.

Now I could go off about what a great guy Zen is for a while but alas this is a review of he and his band’s latest record “Move” released toward the end of 2009.

The album starts off with a very Weezer-esque tune “I Will Not Forget”. I hear a bit of The World Has Turned in this song and it’s welcomed joyfully. It’s a good opener as it give listeners a preview of the many faces of Please Do Not Fight—male/female vocal interplay, rock solid and inventive drumming, great melodic guitar and bass work and fantastic song writing.

Words Speak Louder is PDNF’s rock song. It’s the song that plays with dynamics the best and has an addictive hook in the back and forth interplay during the verses where the bass drops out and comes in with ripping drums over and over again and then the ferocious repeated chorus line which almost sounds like a pre chorus “Are you feeling left out?”. I could listen to that back and forth on repeat for hours.

BAMF tips it’s proverbial hat to Death Cab for Cutie , an obvious and wonderful mentor for the band. It’s well put together coming off of an almost melancholy rhythm brought to life by the steady tom rolls of drummer Kubes and the melodic yet driving guitar playing of Geoff McCann.

I couldn’t help but think that many of these songs would fit well stripped down with the acoustic guitar, a shuffle drumbeat, standup bass and a little whiskey to bring out the southern drawl I know Zen has deep down inside him somewhere. It’s more of a strange fantasy but this inclination comes out strong in songs like “Please Don’t Wipe Your Smile Off Your Face”.

“Up Up Up “ screams early Motion City Soundtrack which is awesome. Producer Aaron Hellam’s studio magic works perfectly throughout the EP but exceptionally well on this track. It’s full, alive and full of passion. I almost wanted the breakdown halfway through the song to take twice as long and really build since it reminded me of Weezer’s “Only in Dreams” as it drops to a solid bass line with sparse ride symbol however, it also fits the in-your-face energy of the song as is and keeps it tight and short, to the point.

For a six song EP this album takes you through quite the emotional spectrum. There are frustrated angsty songs akin to  the late 90’s pop punk movement which are welcome elements to the more polished and sometimes sentimental 2000 something indie rock songwriting all over this album.  Make no mistake Please Do Not Fight is a loud rock band but there is also a sweet little songwriting element that pervades all the songs on this EP and that makes it more accessible to a wider audience than just grungy club goers and scenesters. The EP ends with a mellow rock song called “Hard to Tell”. It lets you down easy after a wild ride with an acoustic guitar backing the entire song.  The vocal duet between Zen and keyboardist/violinist/vocalist Erin Keely refraining on the lyric “We just need more time” at the end of the song is perfect.  You’ve got all the time in the world Please Do Not Fight and I can’t wait to see and hear what new songs you come up with in the coming years.

-Doug Streblow

July 2010

Listen to and purchase “Move” by visiting Please Do Not Fight’s bandcamp page Here: http://pleasedonotfight.bandcamp.com

Music without the Music

I recently met a man named Shimmy Boyle. He’s a man of his words, a poet some might call him. I like “language magician” better, at least it suits him better. He has a way of wrapping up images in words even the best imaginations seldom can. It’s inspiring to say the least.

I won’t try to define what I find so mystical if for no other reason than I don’t want the defining process to kill the magic. Here is Shimmy Boyle performing one of his pieces entitled “These Rocks Can Read This Water The Way I Can Read a Book” from his new (and first!) book, “Recipe for a Mountain” at a recent friends album release show in Oakland. Enjoy and please do yourself a favor and check out his website www.shimmypoetry.com and pick up his debut book, “Recipe for a Mountain”. Enjoy

(Click this link to see video) Shimmy Boyle “These Rocks Can Read This Water The Way I Can Read a Book”

The BIG Release

This is the cover art for the new Buckeye Knoll record

So I spent over two years making an album I’m releasing this coming week with my band Buckeye Knoll. It’s called People and Place. I just wanted to take a moment and recap some of the elements that make this album different, significant and special in ways that may or may not make it to a Bio on our website, a press piece, an album review or a myspace/facebook bulletin. Think of this as a chance to get a unique inside look or window into the world of this album from behind the curtain.

This album started in the summer of 2007 in the same old barn I’d played and performed in my entire life. This barn is called the White Barn and it’s an 1800’s carriage house on the ranch where I great up. I was home on the ranch in St. Helena for the summer immediately after graduating from college when I first started writing some of these songs. I brought my little home studio set up into the top floor of the creaky old barn and set things up. For some reason I brought every instrument I owned or had around me up in the barn with me. I think I had 5 acoustic guitars with me, countless shakers and who knows what else. I wrote and demoed many tracks including two that would make the final cut for this album. One of those tracks was called “Song that Never Died”. Over time it morphed to become the album track, “Keep You Close To Me”. Here’s the original demo from that first White Barn Session where I’m just freaking out alone on a new song, adding all kinds of wacky instruments to try and find the songs sound. Song that Never Died (DEMO) After you check this song out, check it out at the Buckeye Knoll Bandcamp page to hear how it turned out on the final version of People and Place. Crazy.

I’m going to skip around a bit in terms of a chronological order to this story as the pieces pop into my head. About mid summer 2007 I found out I got into this graduate program in Environmental Education I’d applied late to earlier that summer. As it turned out if I wanted to attend the program I had to leave in 5 weeks. “Shit,” I thought, “why not strike while the irons hot?” So I packed up my belongings and set out to start school…again. This program was different though and it would heavily shape the music I was making or the inspiration to write and record an album. This program, called the Audubon Expedition Institute was different from normal school because instead of a 4 walled classroom or campus we travelled the entire time, each semester through a different Bioregion of Northern America in an old school bus. “Kind of crazy?” I thought. “Here I go.”

So for the next year and a half (the last semester I spent traveling and working all over the great Bay Area) I went traveling through different regions of the US with anywhere between 15-20 other students and faculty studying intensely and intimately the people and places who lived wherever we went. We looked at environmental issues of course, but also historical, cultural, spiritual, political, personal and all kinds of other issues. The three Bioregions I traveled and lived in where the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Atlantic Coast. These places were the backdrop to the songs that began to take shape over the course of that year and a half traveling.

We slept outside every night in wilderness areas, urban areas, campgrounds, fields and backyards. We backpacked into all kinds of crazy beautiful wilderness areas, forests, deserts, mountains, you name it. I brought my acoustic guitar with me everywhere and a little digital voice recorder to capture song ideas. I filled journal after journal with lyrics amassing quite the list of demos.

My best friend Cian Riordan engineered the record, first in New York in May of 2008, then at the White Barn in St. Helena in December of 2008 and finally in Santa Cruz in December of 2009. We mastered the record down in LA in January with the very talented Matt Radosevich at Barefoot Studios (WOW!).

This album came together with the help of over 18 of my friends who played various instruments on the record. They came to NY, St. Helena and Santa Cruz and they all did it for free because they believed in the music. I’m extremely honored to have made a record with so many talented folks.

Thanks for reading, checking out People and Place, for watching one of the videos we made, for commenting, for passing on a Buckeye Knoll link to someone you think would dig it and for taking a listen. I hope you enjoy some of the stories behind this album as much as the album itself.

Come celebrate with us as we release People and Place with a Bay Area Mini Tour this coming week (click date for more info).

April 22nd Santa Cruz April 23rd Oakland April 24th St. Helena

April 22nd Santa Cruz...April 23rd Oakland...April 24th St. Helena

And finally a little promo video with beautiful sunrise shots of the actual Buckeye Knoll in the Napa Valley.

People and Place Promo

-Doug Streblow

BUCKEYE KNOLL

BANDCAMP

FACEBOOK

MYSPACE

ps Congrats to Picture Atlantic on the Release of their new EP on April 24th at the Bottom of the Hill w/Bird by Bird and Please Don’t Fight. If we didn’t have one our album release show that night at the White Barn in St. Helena w/Sean Hayes I’d be there in a second. Way to go guys!

Where do songs come from?

This blog is about the inspiration for songs. Where do songs come from? What inspires a song? Is it people, emotions, life experience, religion, myth, drugs, love, anger, creativity, a good conversation, a wound, a triumph? Whenever I’m asked the question, “Where do your songs come from?” the first thing I always think of is a place.

For instance, I’ve written some great songs here:I’ve written some awesome songs here:And I’ve definitely written some great songs here:All of these places are a memory for me and they’re tied to a song. They often flash through my mind when I’m playing them live.It’s a great way to travel and see old places and people that were there when the song was written. Songs are full of memories and I love filling them with great times with wonderful people.

Where do your songs come from?

Finding Yourself Again

Some times the most unexpected musical evenings are the ones that turn into the most inspiring. Something happens when you begin to get involved with any “scene”—you find out what you like and what you’re not so fond of. Then you start acting on those likes and dislikes. In the world of music these inclinations begin to define and if you’re not careful, limit your potential to fall in love with music all over again.

People always talk about music being a drug. Chemists talk about the rush of dopamine that triggers in heightened moments of elation or when we connect to something bigger than our selves and how upon this chemical cocktail being mixed, handed to us and then slammed down through our system makes our emotions say “I’m happy”. Musicians talk about the high they feel on stage when that oh-so-sweet bridge hits and the crowd is screaming along every line and an overwhelming sensation of something other than human takes your body and mind over and then…the lights go down and the PA is powered off, you pack up your amps and drums, load out and sleepily crawl into your bed for the night, just to wake up and get ready to do it all again.

We all get something from music. It drives us home at night, tucks us in. It gives us something to look forward to on the weekend, something to make love to in the moonlight. We sneak it into moments of silence and some of us carry it in our wombs, birth it, dress it up and share it with the masses. We love music.

One of the best things however is finding and sharing music when you least expect it, or at least when you didn’t expect things to be so great. A couple of weeks ago I went to a house show in Santa Cruz. I didn’t know any of the bands or any of the band members. I didn’t know anybody who lived there. I didn’t know anyone there. Hell, I don’t think I knew myself that night. Anyway, I showed up and found myself a nice spot standing on an old crusty yellow chair from the 70’s and posted up on the outskirts of the living room/stage. The place was packed and as the first band began to play the place became alive. Everyone became a part of the music that night. There was no casual sipping of the beer at the back end of the bar or standing awkwardly by the merch table. There was only front and center main stage.

I rocked back and forth on my own cushioned stage popping more and more springs out of the dilapidated chair until it looked more like an art experiment gone wrong than a place to sit. As the night wore on and the bands changed and the room filled with that nasty mass of human breathing and while dopamine rushed through my body, my lack of expectation turned into reverence and I remembered who I was. I remembered all of the bands, the people, the peeling paint on the front door, the smell of bodies with currents charging through them all set to the sounds of, what was that band called again? There I was in the midst of it all and I fell in love again.

You see it doesn’t always matter what you like and dislike, what Pandora thinks would be a good compliment for the track you just listened to online or what your friends, cousins, boyfriend says is cool this week. Sometimes you just have to embrace the night and the concept that music is music and it’s there to experience and enjoy more than categorize and choose.

Go out and find yourself at a show, in a living room, on the street, in the woods, in a neighbors kitchen. Go find yourself where you least expect to go and find music there you’d least expect to like and enjoy it.

-Doug

On a very different note. My group Buckeye Knoll is looking for musicians. Take a look and listen and if you know someone who might be interested get in touch. My email is buckeyeknoll{at}yahoo.com Thanks.

Ten Years in the Making

I was born and raised in a small town in the Napa Valley called St. Helena. There was no scene there, no other bands to look up to and as you can imagine no venues to support a young group of kids trying to make music. So, as you can imagine we did it all ourselves. We built stages in barns and fields, borrowed antiquated sound equipment and invited people to come watch us play music in random found locations. We wrote all of our own songs and began playing them as often as possible.

One show led to another and with a bit of confidence built up we began to set our musical sights on possibilities outside of our small hometown. We ventured out slowly into the Bay Area, playing small shows anywhere a someone would let us. Looking back most of those shows were at some of the worst venues with bands that sounded nothing like us. It wasn’t exactly the dream coming true we’d all hoped for but we had each other and for those 30 minutes on stage we had our music.

As the years went on people peeled off to college and other interests. We all grew up and the band fell apart. I carried the torch with one of my best friends until I was about 20 but then it was time for even the final two remaining original band members to go their separate ways. I decided it was time for a break from music, from school, from whatever life I thought I knew. I threw on a backpack, jumped in a huge cargo van and headed to the wilderness for a summer. In the mountains of California I fell in love again; with music, writing, reading, life in general. I came back from that summer with a journal full of possibilities ready to be realized.

This marked the beginning of Buckeye Knoll, a project that sprung from a reawakening and freshness that you get when you break away from what you know and begin to discover the rest of what’s out there.

A lot has happened since then. I’ve written some more music and recorded dozens of tracks, put out an EP in 2007 and toured the western US in support. I finished up an Anthropology degree at UC Santa Cruz, then got a Masters in Environmental Education while traveling the country for two years in an old school bus. I feel like I’ve been around the world and back and in a lot of ways I have, yet I’m coming back to music.

In reality I’ve always been “coming back” to music and always will. It comes and goes in my life in variable intensities but it’s always there like a constant melody evolving through the years. And now I’m on the verge of something beautiful. After two years traveling, writing and recording over 20 tracks with my best friend, engineer Cian Riordan, I’m putting out a Buckeye Knoll full length album this Spring. It reflects the people and places I spent the better part of two years with.

Ready to jump back into music and see if I can start a fire. Here goes.

-Doug